Harry Potter Book Club: Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 1

All right, fellow travelers through Harry Potter's world! We're approaching a dark door, deep in a tunnel, great and forbidding, with the sign and seal of Hogwarts' most compromised founder carved upon it. This is a time for bravery, for holding tightly to your wands, and possibly for getting in touch with your inner Goth.

I'm spending the evening with my parents and my in-laws,
so this is as Goth as I dared go.
Note the skull-and-crossbones earrings, though. :D
Before we all paint our nails black, however (WHY do I not have black nail polish??!!), we need to look at last week's summary of the end of Sorcerer's Stone. Masha finds the ending disappointing, and she doesn't trust Harry's hero and mentor:
Art by azmin
...even here - so early on - [Dumbledore] has the after-taste of utilitarianism, a tendency to use others like chessmen, to manipulate. There’s a similar subtlety and secrecy about him to Snape’s, but sugar coated, and that much sugar gives me headaches. He’s one of my least favorite characters..I don’t like him or trust his motives.
In so doing, she's chosen her side in the Great Divide between Harry Potter fans: Snape loyalty and Dumbledore loyalty. By my guess, Snape fans tend to value passion and brokenness, and may make excuses for the meanness that often results from that combination. Dumbledore fans tend to value fervent dedication to love and rightness and goodness, and may make excuses for the Machiavellianism that often results from that. The Snape/Dumbledore loyalty divide isn't necessarily a hard line, but it frequently is, and it was the source of some huge combox and forum battles immediately following the release of Deathly Hallows.
Art by EnigmaticSS

I'm a Dumbledore fan. For better or for worse... and probably for both. I often feel affection for Snape, and I often hurt for him, but his brutality is still hard for me to forgive. But I can forgive Dumbledore everything but one or two BIG SPOILERS, because his utilitarian tendencies arise from his being stuck in a spoilerifically difficult position, and he fills that position—as best as he can—with faithfulness, compassion, and humility.

Christie's Sorcerer's Stone finale post is still in the works. But I can forgive her that, no problem, partly because she's awesome and partly because she devoted her writing time to challenging Harold Bloom more thoroughly and knowledgeably than I was capable of doing:
Now, as far as I have read, Harry Potter is not a challenging, game-changing story.  But I have to protest the implication that reading it will not at all enrich mind, spirit, and personality.  What is the anthropomorphic castle if not an introduction to the Gothic genre?  And the Flamels' longevity coupled with Voldemort's rabid lusting for the Stone (and the blood of innocents) if not a grammary to Paradise Lost?  On the contrary, I think Rowling's borrowing of these classic elements is essential to and accountable for, at the very least, some of the interest in Harry Potter, beyond action in the form of zipping brooms and hi-jinks with clever and uncomfortable spells.
Art by Gustav Dore
Which reminds me that I should read Paradise Lost. (Instead, I just keep re-reading Dante...) Along those lines: I'm a little ashamed to admit this, considering how old I was when I started reading Harry, but the Potter books have quite literally been my introduction to much of foundational Western literature. Sure, I'd read Tolkien and Austen and Dickens and a few others, but I knew next to nothing about Greek and Roman mythology or the traditions of Western lit outside of the influence of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (and only the modern Protestant canon, at that.) I've been making up for lost time ever since I learned that Hagrid's "Fluffy" was a creature of historical myth.

If that's not sign of enrichment, I don't know what is.

And now, travelers, we move forward. The red Stone has been destroyed, the evil wizard is off plotting a comeback from his weird inhuman state, and Harry is back with the Dursleys, anxiously awaiting his return to Hogwarts at any cost.

* * *

This Week in Reading Harry

Read: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 1

It's only eleven pages—ten and a half, really—and it's mostly re-introduction to the story and Harry's situation. If we go any further, we'll be introducing important new characters, so we'll hold right here for the week.

Also, you can make Aunt Petunia's pudding for yourself, if you're feeling adventurous. I'm supposed to be getting off sugar, so I can't do it just now. Terribly unfortunate.

Bloomsbury UK adult edition

Prelude to Chamber of Secrets, Chapter One

Chamber of Secrets is my least favorite Harry Potter book. Now, to understand that statement fully, you must realize that every time I get to the end of CoS, I wind up thinking to myself that it's a wonderful, beautiful little story.*

But the tone of the tale is darker than the first, darker throughout. That is—if its scenes are not especially darker than the sight of something creepy drinking unicorn blood at night in a forest, or than a professor with a demoniac face on the back of his head attacking a student in an underground room, it's at least not quite as carefully balanced with light. You'll need your Lumos charm to get through this one. A St. Benedict medal might come in handy, too—let the dragon never be my guide! Though it's not dragons exactly that we're going to be dealing with... And some of the events are more suggestive of a psychopathic murder mystery than of a book meant to be read to little kiddos by a librarian in a pointy hat.

Wicked stepbrother
Art by JamusDu
We're not quite there yet, though. Right now, Harry's back at the beginning of the journey, hanging out with the Dursleys, celebrating his twelfth birthday by pretending not to exist. This hurts to read about—that's a very direct and symbolic attack on Harry's identity and human worth, perpetrated by his blood relatives. Harry gets his Cinderella time in, too, with tauntings from his wicked stepbrother and abuse and slave-labor treatment from his wicked step-parents.

Just weeks ago, he was famous and popular, victor once again over Voldemort, key player in helping Gryffindor win the House cup, surrounded by magic and friends. But on his twelfth birthday:
Wish they could see famous Harry Potter now, he thought savagely as he spread manure on the flower-beds, his back aching, sweat running down his face. (p 10)
Crappy photoshop job alert!**
Famous Harry Potter has come right back to the beginning of the monomyth, readied—though he doesn't yet know it—for another trip around the circle. He's going to be stuck in that loop for a while, and by the time he's done... well, SPOILERS. Our focus for the next few weeks is this dark, sometimes garish, difficult turn of the wheel.

Everybody got your wands out? Say it with me now... Lumos.

* The word I usually use is awesome, but I thought it best to vary my lexicon a little, as I'd used it at least once in the post already. I use awesome like a true child of the eighties, or nineties, or whenever the word became popular. I'm not awesome enough to know.
** I took these pictures in our bathroom, without thinking about how appropriate that is to the story. Accidental genius FOR THE WIN.


  1. Goth Jenna rocks! You look fantastic..though you'd look better with black nail polish ;)

    Reading CoS again I'm liking it more..except next chapter's[spoiler] and of course, [Spoiler!]..I LOVE the cover of the UK adult edition..I'd buy that!!..If I had money, which I don't right now..

    Poor Harry, it is sort of wounding to read about his birthday..it's sort of an up and down world he's living in, isn't it.

    Christie's critic post was Amazing.. Harold Bloom was interesting to go deeper into - and yeah, there's a sort of snobbery there that I can understand, but never endorse..I get the tendency, just not the indulgence of it.

    Paradise Lost is over-rated. :)

    1. Thank you!! I've always had a soft spot for the Goth look! It was SO much fun to do. I should totally get some black nail polish, just for the heck of it. ;)

      The UK adult editions are my favorite for cover art!! I wish they'd been out when I started buying the books.

      Christie's post WAS amazing!

    2. P.S. Does this mean I can skip Paradise Lost? ;P

    3. Aw, shucks you guys! I'm always a little testy when it comes to literary critics. c; Tend not to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      I've only read the first chapters of Paradise Lost. If you consider that he wrote some (a lot?) of it by reciting it to himself in the morning before his secretary could get there to write it down for him, it's impressive. There are some excellent quotes. Dante is better. c;

  2. I'm afraid I'm not a fan of either Snape OR Dumbledore! Snape is abusive and Dumbledore is ruthless and often careless with the lives of his students.

    1. Fair enough! :) Though I'll have to think about whether I'd apply the word ruthless to Dumbledore, and I think in the point of carelessness, he's (to some extent, at least) a victim of the Orphan Hero archetype, which entails a distinct lack of adult protectiveness and guidance.

    2. See, and I like both! Is that a thing?

    3. I'm pretty sure there have always been people who argue for both Snape AND Dumbledore. ;)

  3. A few (completely disjointed and therefore individually listed) points:
    Darkness - in a way I think this might be THE darkest book in the series; I'm not sure why but it's always struck me that way. It's also one of my favorites, probably partially for that and partially for the fairly unchallenged friendships throughout. (Sorry, is that a spoiler? I thinks it's okay - if not just cast a memory charm on Christie and it's all good...)
    Cinderella - While the "Harry's back at his abusive folks and suffering through life" motif gets a little old, I like this one. It fleshes out his character a bit, particularly the bit where he "Savagely" wishes his friends could see him now. This may be nitpicking but... I wished that bit were highlighted as more problematic than it is. Not a ton, but simply as a character flaw he needs to be purified of, not a perfectly understandable result of his upbringing. Because while it's too much to expect perfect humility from him now, it would be nice to see more of a push in that direction.
    Goth - Always a good look and you and Lou are first on our list of invites to the Goth Yurt Ball, which will be held someday, with lots of drippy candles, flickering torches, and black velvet. It'll be awesome ;).
    -The Neglected Husband


      Yeah, I can see the points about Harry's savagery and the need for it to be shown as more problematic... though we may get into that during book 5, where we get to see what fandom affectionately calls "Caps Lock Harry." ;) It can certainly be argued that when push comes to shove between compassion and purity on the individual, personal level, Rowling's work errs on the side of compassion, and I probably overlook that a lot because I tend a little bit the same way myself.

      It IS a good book, though, darkness and all... and yeah, it does feel like the darkest in the series. I'm kind of surprised it's not more people's favorite, actually, if only because the darkness is so vividly Gothic throughout.

  4. hmm. . . maybe I'll go grab CoS from the library tomorrow and join back in. Donno if I'll do a goth selfie, though. . .

    1. Goth selfies not required. ;) But it would be awesome if you joined back in!!

  5. I knew next to nothing about Greek and Roman mythology or the traditions of Western lit outside of the influence of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures (and only the modern Protestant canon, at that.) I've been making up for lost time ever since I learned that Hagrid's "Fluffy" was a creature of historical myth.

    That's what I'm talking about! It's leagues better than the Sweet Valley High books I grew up on, and even Little House on the Prairie, Ann of Green Gables are lacking profoundly in that mythological inheritance . . . which is fine for what they are, but I don't think literary education should stop THERE.

    1. Aw, yeah, Sweet Valley High! I read one or two of those... it was The Babysitters' Club that I read by the millions, and yeah, Harry Potter is better. :D

      And I agree with the rest of your comment, too!


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